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State bill to create pilot programs for congestion pricing in CA could mean ‘go zones’ are coming to a city near you

Drivers fill the 110 freeway during afternoon rush-hour on January 9, 2008 in Los Angeles, California.
Drivers fill the 110 freeway during afternoon rush-hour on January 9, 2008 in Los Angeles, California.
David McNew/Getty Images

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It’s no secret that many Californians spend countless hours sitting in traffic every year, and Los Angeles is a city that is constantly balancing its long-standing car culture with the desire of most Angelenos to not have to spend so much time sitting in soul-crushing traffic on Southern California’s massive network of freeways.

Congestion pricing, a system that would require drivers to pay a toll or fee to enter specific areas of a city like downtown with the intent of reducing congestion, is one option that has been tossed around as a way to cut down on congestion in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, where California sees some of its worst traffic. Now, there’s movement in Sacramento to look at the feasibility of implementing the system here.

Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) is co-sponsoring a bill with State Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) that would create pilot programs in Northern and Southern California to assess how congestion pricing, sometimes referred to as “Go Zones.” In addition to creating the programs, it creates a carve out to a state law that allows jurisdictions running the pilot programs to charge the kind of permit fees that would be levied in a congestion pricing system, when state law would otherwise prohibit it. Other major cities like Stockholm, Sweden and London have had varying levels of success with their own congestion pricing programs, but it’s unclear whether and how it would affect the number of cars on the road in California.

So how does congestion pricing actually work when applied? What are the arguments for and against? What have other cities who have implemented similar systems learned? And would it realistically work in a place like Los Angeles or San Francisco?

An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that Asm. Bloom's office did not respond to our request for comment. We did receive a timely response saying that Asm. Bloom was unable to join the discussion but the email was somehow funneled to an unchecked inbox and our producers did not see it until after the airing of the segment. We have made a correction and regret the error.

With guest host Libby Denkmann.


Amanda Eaken, director of transportation and climate with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Urban Solutions Program; she tweets @aeaken

Robert Poole, director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation